Even after his foot has struck the ball, a kicker must keep his head down. Regardless of the field goal’s length, his follow-through technique is crucial.
Before the snap, his eyes have to remain fixed on the spot. His head should be occupied by basic thoughts to avoid distraction. Then trained on that spot. Nothing but the blessed spot.
Transfixed, he won’t see oncoming rushers in his periphery. The ball zips back; the holder puts it right on that spot. The kicker plants his foot, locks the ankle so his toe doesn’t come up too high and make the ball wobble.
His eyes stay down to keep his head down to keep his shoulders down to keep his chest down. Shoulders rise if the kicker wants to take an unadvisable early peek, and that causes the ball to drift. If his chest rises too soon, he won’t strike the ball absolutely.
The hips should be square at the target to ensure a straight flight. His head should be down until his plant foot skips a little as it’s supposed to.
Scott Norwood did all of that. Then he looked up and saw the Buffalo Bills were not going to win the Super Bowl.
“When I put myself in that moment, it’s still very fresh, very real,” Norwood said Wednesday night at a bar near his home in Virginia. “I get emotional. It’s like when I think about my parents and when they died. People always say time will take care of that. I don’t think it really does.
“But I don’t want time to deaden the feeling. That’s life.”
Twenty-five years after the Bills lost by a point to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV, Norwood hasn’t liberated himself.
Norwood’s unsuccessful 47-yard field goal attempt is an iconic sports moment, alongside the ground ball that dribbled through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series and the agony-of-defeat ski jumping wipeout from “Wide World of Sports.”
Memories of how Super Bowl XXV ended still make Norwood cry. As the Bills continued to lose an unprecedented four straight Super Bowls – the last two with a different kicker – Norwood’s pain grew exponentially. The Bills still haven’t won the NFL title, and his fateful kick was the closest they came. A few piddly feet.
“The kick certainly has taken on a life of its own,” Norwood said. “That’s just the way things evolved and elevated the load.”
He can’t shake the feeling he let down an entire city. His coaches and former teammates have known of Norwood’s grief, but even they were startled to hear the depths of his brooding from an interview this week with The Buffalo News.
“Are you kidding me? That’s just crazy,” Bills teammate Darryl Talley said upon hearing one particular revelation. “We have to do something about that, about somebody bearing that kind of pressure for such a long period of time.
“I can’t believe that. You’ve got to get past that.”
Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith reacted with a guttural noise when informed of Norwood’s delicate psyche. Smith blamed Satan.
“I can understand where Scott is coming from,” Smith said, “but I think those are the demons, the Evil One that’s actually putting those thoughts in his mind and putting him in this depressed state.”
Norwood seems aware he ought not think this way. He acknowledges he was a good kicker. Two years before the Bills’ first Super Bowl, he was the NFL’s best. He was an All-Pro in 1988 and led the league in scoring. The Bills won five games by three points or fewer that season, including each of their first three games and a 9-6 overtime victory over the New York Jets that clinched the AFC East title.
But remembering that and feeling that aren’t the same. Tucked in a corner of Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern, a loud and proud Bills bar in Herndon, Va., it was mentioned that his old coach, Bruce DeHaven, is worried. DeHaven said it was well past time Norwood “unburden himself.”
Norwood choked back tears and glanced up into the corner at a college basketball game to sidetrack his brain.
“Unburden, huh?” Norwood said, looking away. “That’s a breakthrough almost, hearing that word, because that’s really the largest part of it.”
Talley convinced Norwood to sit down for an interview with The Buffalo News. DeHaven, a gatekeeper for Norwood over the years, persuaded him to get involved in the “30 for 30: Four Falls of Buffalo” documentary from NFL Films and ESPN.
Norwood did an autograph signing Saturday in Batavia. He has another scheduled next Saturday at Sports Obsession in the Galleria Mall before a guest appearance at WGR’s roast for Hall of Fame receiver Andre Reed.
“Maybe this is one of the ways to start the process of having some closure,” Smith said. “Hopefully, he can find a peace in his mind that he hasn’t felt before.”
After 25 miserable, isolated years, Norwood should be done looking at his spot.
He’s bringing his head up.
‘You can be intimidated’
Norwood is an admitted introvert. He’s never been the gregarious sort, nothing like Talley or Steve Tasker or Jim Kelly or Kent Hull or Thurman Thomas or Ray Bentley or James Lofton.
The teams Norwood kicked for produced broadcasters, ministers, coaches, dynamic motivational speakers. Norwood mumbles. He speaks at low volume when he speaks at all. Talley recounted occasions when the Bills would get together, but they needed to draw Norwood into their conversations. At some point, Norwood would vanish, just leave without saying goodbye.
These disappearing acts would happen while they were playing and in retirement, when Norwood would make his infrequent visits from Virginia.
“I’ve never really expressed this,” Norwood said, leaning forward over his Buffalo platter of wings, beef on weck, pierogies and kielbasa. He’s 55, with salt-and-pepper hair. He looks like he’s in good shape. “When I go and do an engagement like a signing or a golf tournament over the years, I always felt bad.
“You get around someone like Jim Kelly, who even since he’s been out of football has been through battles and his light has gotten brighter, you can be intimidated being around some of those guys.”
If Jim Kelly is Michael Corleone, then Norwood views himself as Fredo. If the Bills were the Beatles, then Norwood considers himself Yoko Ono. Norwood detects a hint that Screech, Urkel and Meg Griffin never took.
“They were the marquee guys,” Norwood said of his Hall of Fame teammates, “and I just saw myself – as they would look at me – as someone who was going to represent not winning the Super Bowl.
“When I look back, I think I did all right. I can look myself in the mirror. But it was clear what I represented. When I was around those guys, I felt like I was causing a disruption, causing them pain.”
Norwood’s revelation blindsided Kelly. The Hall of Fame quarterback insisted he was more to blame than Norwood for any Super Bowl loss. Other teammates shoulder their share of blame.
“It totally shocks me,” Kelly said. “I’ve always thought of Scott as an equal, as a member of my family. I wouldn’t look at him any differently if he had made the kick. I love the guy. This is the first I’ve heard about it.”
Norwood, though, knows the Bills never made him feel like an outsider. Quite the opposite; they’ve embraced him. They’ve repeatedly and publicly declared their Super Bowl XXV loss was not his fault.
“Nobody is mad at him,” Talley said from his home in Orlando. “I missed tackles. Andre dropped balls. Jim threw interceptions. Thurman fumbled. People missed blocks.
“I told Scott, ‘I still want to do it next to you. I made more money with you than anybody else. I went to Super Bowls with you.’ If we didn’t have him, we might have had somebody who couldn’t kick, who stopped us from getting there in the first place.”
Smith dropped by Norwood’s hotel room before they departed Tampa for home. Smith told Norwood they lost as a team, that the team loves him.
At the welcome-home celebration in Niagara Square, the crowd chanted Norwood’s name. He wanted to remain in the back of the group, but the fans coaxed him to the microphone and ostensibly expressed their forgiveness.
Twenty-five years removed, Norwood apparently still needs to be convinced he’s worthy of Jim’s, Thurman’s, Andre’s and Bruce’s space.
“It seems like it shook him to his boots, right to the earth,” Talley said.
Keeping his distance
Norwood’s personal life is somewhat mysterious. He married Kim Burch of West Seneca, but they moved near his Virginia hometown when his career was over. Their twins, Carly and Connor, just turned 21. Corey is 19.
Norwood mostly has kept his distance. He applied his business degree from James Madison University as a financial planner, an insurance salesman and a real estate agent. Now he works for a landscaping company, but he was vague about what he actually does.
A year ago, his two AFC Championship rings turned up in an auction. He was vague about that, too. He said he lost possession of the rings in “more of a loan situation,” that they were “a transaction gone awry.” Were the rings pawned? Put up as collateral? Norwood won’t tell.
“I was swindled,” Norwood said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
The rings eventually were removed from the auction, but Norwood declined to say if he knew their whereabouts.
He didn’t want Kim or his children interviewed for this story. He didn’t want to meet a reporter at his home.
“He wouldn’t come back to Buffalo even though he’s married to a Buffalo girl,” DeHaven said from the Carolina Panthers’ offices, where he is their special-teams coach. “He didn’t stay in touch with anybody at all for a long time.
“I know it was a deep, deep wound for a lot of years.”
Talley would have preferred Norwood bring Kim into the healing process. Talley went full-scar vulnerable when The Buffalo News wrote a feature story in November 2014 on how his life was crumbling.
“He’s trying to shield his wife and his kids from feeling persecuted like he’s been. I get that part of it,” Talley said. “But she could help tell his story. She went through the whole damn thing, too.
“She’s got to come home to Buffalo, right? How does that feel for her?”
A fine career
In Norwood’s opinion, the sweetest day of his career was toward the end of 1985 training camp in Fredonia. He walked onto the field and discovered he was the last kicker left.
Bill Polian, then the Bills’ pro personnel director, informed Norwood he’d made the team.
“Just playing one game would have been a life’s dream,” Norwood said. “That was my greatest day, to make a National Football League roster. That was almost the pinnacle, everything else didn’t matter.”
And yet nothing else about Norwood mattered except his kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV.
Norwood’s name doesn’t evoke his caliber. The average fan doesn’t recall the time on Sept. 25, 1988, when he made all five of his field goal attempts and scored 18 points in a win over the Steelers, one of only 45 kickers in NFL history to account for that many, on his wife’s birthday. They don’t remember his All-Pro season.
Maybe they’ll recall how he tried to analyze and explain his missed Super Bowl XXV field goal for a half hour after that game, how he didn’t avoid a single question before leaving Tampa Stadium. The way he conducted himself in defeat is a significant reason DeHaven named his adopted son, Tobin Scott, after Norwood.
People might point out his 1991 rebound season, when he made a late 44-yard field goal to give the Bills a two-score lead in their AFC Championship victory over the Denver Broncos. But Norwood was shaky that year. He kicked a 42-yarder to beat the Los Angeles Raiders in sudden death after missing three field goals and an extra point in the second half. He missed a pair of field goals in a 17-14 overtime loss to the Detroit Lions.
Even so, they don’t know Norwood and Don Chandler are the only two kickers to make their final field goal attempts in a Super Bowl. Norwood also converted an onside kick in Super Bowl XXVI.
Some of his old teammates can’t recall whether Norwood was the Bills’ kicker for two or three or all four Super Bowls.
But that missed kick materializes evermore, out of nowhere sometimes. On TV, while using the Internet, in well-intended conversation, the reminders of Norwood’s worst disappointment are as uncontrollable as they are unpleasant.
“He needs to stop thinking about one play, replace it with thoughts that make sense and begin to believe that,” said Norwood’s college coach and namesake of the Challace J. McMillin Center for Sports Psychology at JMU.
“To stop it, you have to say ‘I was very good and had a fine professional career, and I didn’t lose that game. There was a whole game played.’ He needs to keep reminding himself of that and try to let it go.”
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Bills’ first Super Bowl. Norwood was befuddled Wednesday to hear CBS Sports’ Super Bowl 50 pregame show had reimagined Buffalo winning all four Super Bowls. Kelly gave a faux interview in which he crowed not even his wife and children made him happier than when Norwood kicked the winning field goal.
“Four Falls of Buffalo” also ended with film doctored to show Norwood’s kick went through the uprights.
“It’ll get easier, but it’ll never go away,” DeHaven said. “It’s going to pop up because it’s part of NFL history, and then you get that tightness in the stomach.
“You’ll want to put it behind you, but you won’t. You just can’t. It’ll always be with him, but he’s learning to deal with it.”
‘Out in the light’
Norwood’s kick is viewed unfairly through the prism of today’s NFL, where 47-yarders are drilled every Sunday. Kickers are more specialized, more powerful and more accurate than ever. They begin training in adolescence. Norwood started kicking footballs as a senior in high school.
What Norwood’s legacy deserves has nothing to do with it. He is stuck with that missed field goal.
Trusting enough to do an interview here, appearing for an autograph signing there and hearing upbeat feedback from the “Four Falls of Buffalo” documentary along the way have given Norwood, as he said, “more of an opportunity to step out in the light a little bit.”
Perhaps Norwood has stared at his spot long enough. He has followed through about as much as any man can without raising his eyes to look around.
His head is coming up.
“For a long time, whenever my name was mentioned it was one kick, one Super Bowl,” Norwood said. “It erased that I played a whole career with a lot of effort, a lot of hard work.
“I can never truly explain all the different facets to it. I always knew there was a lot to enjoy and that if I could not be knocked down by one play that it could be profound.”
“This may be my opportunity – if I ever have one – to go ahead and get back in the mix.”
Story topics: Adam Lingner/ Andre Reed/ Bill Polian/ Bruce DeHaven/ Bruce Smith/ Challace J. McMillin/ Darryl Talley/ Don Chandler/ James Lofton/ Jim Kelly/ Kent Hull/ Ray Bentley/ Scott Norwood/ Steve Tasker/ Super Bowl XXV/ Thurman Thomas